Cluster headaches are among the most painful kind of headache. But they don’t have to control your life. At Henry Ford Health, you have access to preventive therapies and timely care for these pain attacks. Our headache specialists are giving more people hope for healing.
What are cluster headaches?
Cluster headaches cause pain on one side of the face behind the eye. Pain comes on suddenly and is often so severe, it stops you in your tracks. Symptoms typically last a few minutes, but may occur several times a day.
Symptoms may be:
- Episodic: You experience recurring headaches for days or weeks at a time, but then go months or years without pain.
- Chronic: Headaches occur up to eight times per day, and you may go years without a pain-free day.
Cluster headache symptoms
Cluster headache pain typically occurs:
- On one side of the head
- Near one eye and extends to the forehead
- At about the same time each day
- In 15-minute episodes, but sometimes for several hours
Other symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Swollen face on the same side as the headache
- Teary eyes and drooping eyelids
Cluster headache treatment at Henry Ford: Why choose us?
Our experienced neurologists have advanced training and specialize in the treatment of headaches. We understand the ways cluster headache can affect your life and excel in delivering safe, effective treatment. This level of care leads to more pain-free days, even if previous therapies have not worked.
Highlights of our program include:
- Accurate diagnosis: There are no tests to confirm or rule out cluster headaches. This is why it’s important to see trusted headache specialists. Our doctors combine years of experience with a detailed neurologic exam to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms.
- Appropriate care: Our headache experts design a care plan just for you, including appropriate medications and other therapies designed to relieve your pain. We prescribe medications and devices that are not habit-forming. And we manage the risk of side effects, so you achieve the best possible results.
- Focus on prevention: Our concern for your well-being extends beyond treating your current symptoms. We prescribe medications to lower the risk of future cluster headache episodes. Care may also include bridge therapy, medications that help end episodes sooner.
Cluster headache evaluation
Cluster headaches are one of many trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias (TACs). Many of these complex conditions have symptoms similar to cluster headaches. You can count on us to correctly distinguish which type of headache it is. Find out more about trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias.
We listen carefully as you describe:
- What the headaches feel like
- How quickly the pain accelerates and how long it lasts
- Where you are experiencing pain
- Your health history, including medications you take for other conditions
- Headache medications and whether they bring relief
When necessary, imaging studies help us rule out other causes of sudden, severe headaches, like aneurysms or tumors. We may recommend magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan.
Cluster headache treatments
Cluster headache treatments relieve severe symptoms and prevent them from coming back:
Therapies to relieve cluster episodes
These cluster headache treatments work quickly to relieve severe pain and symptoms that occur throughout the day:
- Oxygen therapy: Breathing in oxygen through a mask may relieve symptoms faster than medication alone.
- Medications: Drugs that block pain signals help quiet your symptoms. Medicated nasal spray or injectable treatments typically work faster than medications you take by mouth.
Bridge therapies help extend symptom relief until preventive medications start working. You may receive:
- Nerve blocks: We inject a numbing medication into the nerves supplying sensation to the area behind your eye. Find out more about headache nerve blocks and injections.
- Steroids: These fast-acting medications relieve the inflammation that contributes to cluster headache symptoms.
Preventing future cluster episodes
Therapies that lower the risk of future cluster episodes may include:
- Headache medications: Taking daily medications by mouth may lower the risk of future cluster headache episodes. These drugs typically take a few weeks to start working. There is also a shot patients give themselves monthly to help prevent cluster headaches.
- Surgery: Options include procedures to implant devices that control severe symptoms by regulating nerve signals. Our offerings include occipital nerve stimulation (ONS), sphenopalatine ganglion stimulation and deep brain stimulation (DBS). Get more information about surgery for headaches.
- Lifestyle recommendations: Drinking alcohol can trigger symptoms. When you are experiencing frequent episodes, avoiding alcohol can lower your risk of cluster headaches.